Updated, May 2023
Tofu, derived from soybeans, has long been a staple in Asian cuisines, but its popularity has now spread across the globe. It’s especially important for those eating a plant-based vegan diet because of its high protein content and nutritional value.
Known for its mild flavor and remarkable versatility, tofu is cherished by vegans, vegetarians, and even some meat-eaters. Tofu is an excellent source of protein and full of vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Whether you’re a tofu enthusiast looking for new recipes or a curious culinary adventurer, this article will guide you through various preparation and cooking techniques and how to use tofu in your everyday meals.
Tofu and soy, in particular, are not without some controversy. Some are concerned about its plant-derived estrogenic compounds called phytoestrogens. You’ll be happy to know that soy is not as scary as many would have you believe. For a balanced review of tofu, read this article from Dr. Holly Wilson or my article, The Safety of Soy.
If you’d like to know more about tofu, including the different varieties of tofu, its nutritional advantages, and the controversies surrounding it, read my article, Tofu: A Versatile Plant-Based Protein.
Ways to Cook Tofu
Tofu’s versatility makes it an excellent ingredient for novice and seasoned cooks. Whether you prefer it crispy, grilled, stir-fried, or incorporated into desserts, tofu’s ability to absorb flavors makes it a great meat substitute.
To give you an idea about just how versatile tofu is, here are the different ways you can cook tofu. For more detail, see individual recipes.
- CRISPY AND “FRIED” TOFU: Crispy tofu is a wonderful introduction to the world of tofu cooking. By lightly frying, using the “dry-fry” method, you can achieve a lovely texture with a golden crust. To do this, press the tofu to remove excess moisture, then cut it into desired shapes. Coat it with a seasoned flour or cornstarch mixture, and dry-fry until crispy. Crispy tofu can be enjoyed as a snack, added to stir-fries, or tossed in salads for an extra crunch.
- BAKED TOFU: Baking tofu is a healthier alternative to frying, and it’s incredibly simple. Preheat your oven, marinate the tofu in your favorite flavors (such as soy sauce, ginger, garlic, or spices), and place it on a baking sheet. Bake until the tofu develops a firm, slightly chewy texture. Baked tofu can be used as a protein-rich addition to sandwiches, grain bowls, or as a topping for soups.
- GRILLED TOFU: Grilling tofu infuses it with smoky flavors and adds a delightful charred texture. Choose extra-firm tofu, marinate it for a few hours to enhance the taste, and grill it until nicely browned. Grilled tofu can be served as the main protein in sandwiches, kebabs or as a standalone dish paired with vegetables and grains.
- STIR-FRIED TOFU: Stir-frying is a quick and easy method that allows you to incorporate tofu into a variety of vibrant and flavorful dishes. Cut firm or extra-firm tofu into bite-sized pieces and cook them in a hot wok or skillet with your favorite vegetables, sauces, and spices. The tofu will absorb the dish’s flavors while maintaining its shape and texture.
- TOFU SCRAMBLE: Tofu scramble is a fantastic vegan or vegetarian alternative to scrambled eggs. Simply crumble firm tofu, season it with spices like turmeric, cumin, and nutritional yeast, and cook it in a pan with vegetables. Tofu scramble is a versatile option for breakfast or brunch, perfect for filling wraps, tacos, or pairing with toast.
- TOFU IN SOUPS AND STEWS: Tofu can add a satisfying protein element to soups and stews. By cutting tofu into small cubes or triangles and gently simmering it in flavorful broths or sauces, you can create a hearty and nutritious addition to your meals. The tofu will absorb the flavors of the broth, making it a tasty and filling component in various soup recipes.
- TOFU DESSERTS: Yes, tofu can even be used in desserts! Silken or soft tofu can be blended with sweeteners, fruits, and flavorings to create creamy and healthy desserts such as puddings, mousse, or even cheesecakes. Tofu desserts are a fantastic way to enjoy a guilt-free treat while adding a protein boost.
- Baked Tofu
- Avocado Tofu Chocolate Pudding
- Tofu Veggie Scramble
- Green Thai Coconut Curry with Tofu
- Middle Eastern Vegetable Salad with Tofu Feta
How to Prepare Tofu for Cooking
There are three main ways to begin preparing tofu for cooking. Take one of these steps before cooking.
Always Drain Fresh Tofu First
The water in the tofu container keeps your tofu fresh, but you won’t want to include it in any recipe. So, before you get to preparing and cooking tofu, always drain the tofu to remove the water. Open the tofu package over the sink with a sharp knife and drain.
USE FRESH TOFU “AS IS”
Many recipes call for using tofu “as is.” This means you use the tofu straight from the package and don’t have to press it for the recipe. If you’re using it in a dip, stir-frying, or adding it to a soup or stew, you will use fresh tofu “as is” from the package. Here are a few examples of recipes that use un-drained fresh tofu
- Salad dressings & dips, such as this mayonnaise recipe
- Sauces, such as creamy pasta sauces, like this Noodless Tomato Zucchini Lasagna
- Soft desserts like pudding, mousse, and ice cream like this Avocado Tofu Chocolate Mousse
- Pan-sauteed for adding to recipes
- Baked dishes
PRESS THE TOFU
Pressing allows for any marinades or sauces to be taken up into the tofu and add flavor.
Also, see my post, How to Press Tofu with the TofuBud.
Steps for Pressing Tofu Without a Tofu Press:
- Pour the water from the container and remove the tofu.
- Lay several paper towels (or a dish towel) on a plate or in a large container and place the tofu on top. You can place the whole block of tofu or slice it in half the long way.
- Cover the tofu with several more paper towels or wrap it in the dish towel.
- Place a plate or baking sheet on top.
- Place something moderately heavy on the plate; a couple of heavy books or a can of tomatoes are great options.
- Press for 20 minutes or longer.
Steps for Pressing Tofu With a Tofu Press:
- Alternatively, you can purchase one of these tofu-pressing gadgets*.
- Pour the water from the container and remove the tofu.
- Place into the tofu press and compress. If there’s no bottom, place the press in the sink or a container large enough for it. If using a press with screws, screw them tighter as the tofu releases water.
*Use my discount code PLANTBASETBOOKING_10 and receive 10% off your order of The TofuBud.
Now that the tofu is pressed, you can use it in stir-fried dishes, baked dishes, tofu scramble, and serve it chilled in salads.
Ways to Use Pressed Tofu
Pressed Tofu in a Cold Dish
Using tofu in a cold dish such as a salad is simple once you’ve drained and pressed it.
- Slice or cube tofu to a size of your liking.
- Lightly toss the tofu in the dressing or marinade of your preference. One tip is to use an oil-free dressing. Remember that tofu will absorb soy, citrus, or vinegar-based marinade much better than an oil-based one.
- Let the tofu marinate in the fridge for at least an hour.
- Add the tofu to your dish and enjoy!
Here’s a delicious salad made with pressed tofu: Middle Eastern Vegetable Salad with Tofu Feta
Oil-Free “Dry” Fried Pressed Tofu
How to cook tofu without oil. You can also pan “fry” tofu without any oil in a non-stick pan or a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet.
- Place plain tofu slabs, cubes, or triangles in a single layer in a non-stick or cast-iron pan on medium heat.
- Cook until one side is golden brown, pressing with your spatula during the cooking process to help it brown. Any water still in the tofu will sizzle in the pan and evaporate.
- Flip the tofu and brown on the other side, pressing again to speed up the process.
Here’s a recipe to try that uses “dry” fried tofu: Pineapple Fried Rice
Baked Pressed Tofu
For ways to cook tofu, you can bake and season tofu to eat by itself as a snack or as a meat substitute in a meal.
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
- Cut your tofu into about ½ inch cubes.
- If you’re using a marinade or sauce, cover and let sit for 5-15 minutes.
- Place the cubes on a lightly-oiled baking sheet in a single layer.
- Bake for 15 minutes.
- Turn the cubes, and bake until golden brown – another 15 minutes or so.
Salt and season to taste, or try this Baked Tofu recipe that comes already seasoned. It’s a favorite of my whole food plant-based tofu recipes.
FREEZE THE TOFU
Freezing tofu before you use it will give the tofu a different texture and consistency. Freezing causes small pockets throughout the tofu, creating more surface area for marinades to soak into. Frozen tofu is ideal if you want crispy tofu but don’t want to fry it.
There are three key steps to crispy frozen tofu:
- Freeze your drained (not pressed) tofu block. Slice it before freezing if you prefer.
- Place the frozen block in warm water and simmer for 10 minutes or thaw on the counter or refrigerator.
- Sauté tofu on high heat, sliced or cubed as you desire for the dish you’re preparing.
Crumbled frozen tofu also works great as a ground meat substitute in tacos, for example. Freezing it gives it a firmer texture which is ideal for crumbling.:
FROZEN TOFU GROUND MEAT REPLACEMENT
- Drain and press for about 15 minutes.
- Cut your block into smaller pieces – about 4-6 is great.
- Freeze tofu. Thaw when ready to use.
- Crumble tofu by hand and add to a lightly oiled skillet. (If you’re making taco crumbles, you can sauté onion and garlic before adding the tofu.)
- Cook for 2-3 minutes or until tofu is slightly browned
- Add any seasonings, spices, peppers, or anything else you like, and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
- Add a tablespoon or two of water if the tofu starts to dry out along the way.
With the different types of tofu available and the variety of ways to prepare tofu, even the pickiest eater is sure to find a tofu recipe they enjoy!
Experiment by substituting tofu in your favorite recipes and see how you like it best. The possibilities are endless!